Offshore Situation Room

The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is organizing a 2.5-day event which includes interactive serious games to explore the capabilities around preventing, responding to, and recovering from an offshore oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

With 60 to 90 invited players—representing federal, state, and local government agencies; academia; nongovernmental organizations; industry; affected communities; and others—Offshore Situation Room will focus on critical questions to advance efforts to enhance offshore oil safety, environmental protection, and health and resilience of Gulf coast communities in the next decade.

Planning Committee

David J. Hayes is the Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law, which supports state attorneys general in their advocacy for clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies. He teaches energy and environmental law at the NYU School of Law. Hayes previously served as the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the Department of the Interior for Presidents Barack Obama (2009-2013) and Bill Clinton (1999-2001). From 2010 to 2013, he served as the point person for Secretary Ken Salazar in managing the Department’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, including upgrading and reorganizing the Department’s offshore regulatory activities. Based on his leadership during and after the Gulf oil spill, the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard awarded Hayes its Distinguished Public Service Award. Mr. Hayes is a member of the board of directors for the Coalition for Green Capital, the advisory council of Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, and founder of the US Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. He is a former partner and global chair of the Environment, Land & Resources department at Latham & Watkins. Mr. Hayes graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame and received his JD from Stanford Law School.

Mr. Richard Sears, a geophysicist, is an adjunct professor at Stanford University. As chief scientist for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Mr. Sears provided technical and policy recommendations on offshore drilling to prevent future accidents of this type. Mr. Sears provided technical expertise to the investigation into the causes of the incident, and in the preparation of recommendations to the Commission. He was responsible for accessing industry expertise to aid the Commission in carrying out its duties, and was a contributing author of the Chief Counsel’s Report—which detailed the technical and managerial factors leading to the blowout and spill. Mr. Sears also served as a member of the Department of Interior’s Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee. During his 33 years with Shell Oil Co. and Royal Dutch Shell, Mr. Sears acquired significant domestic and international experience in the upstream oil and gas industry, holding technical and managerial positions including: exploration geophysicist, technical instructor, economist, strategic planner, and general management. He received a BS in physics and an MS in geophysics from Stanford University.

Patrick Barnes is a licensed professional geologist and environmental justice advocate. In 1994, he founded BFA Environmental, a minority owned, multidiscipline environmental engineering, scientific consulting, and land surveying services firm. At their peak, BFA had over 150 employees in the Gulf States, executing over 20 million dollars in contracts. BFA has completed water resources management, emergency response, and environmental assessment/restoration projects in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. At the core of a successful environmental restoration project is data collection and monitoring and true community engagement. Under contracts with the South Florida Water Management District, charged with helping to implementing the multibillion Everglades Restoration Program, BFA provided over 3 million dollars of data collection and environmental monitoring services. For hurricanes in the early 2000’s, BFA trained and employed hundreds of residents from impacted areas to participate in the recovery effort. Seeing a community need in 2006, Mr. Barnes provided $300,000 of seed capital to establish Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI), a workforce development and STEM skills job training non-profit. LVI uses the Conservation Corps approach and a service learning model to engage young adults. It has trained and certified over 600 at-risk young adults for the emergency response and coastal restoration projects resulting from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, and Irma and the BP oil spill. In April of 2013, Mr. Barnes was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for his effort to bring environmental resiliency to vulnerable coastal communities through job training.

Shirley Laska, PhD, is professor emerita of sociology and founding past director of the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology at the University of New Orleans (UNO-CHART). She has been conducting applied research on the social/environmental interface, natural & technological hazards, and disaster response for 35 years. Her work includes studies on residential flood mitigation, hurricane response, coastal land loss effects, coastal fisheries, community risk assessment and risk management for coastal hazards, use of information technology and GIS as support tools for disaster management, and evacuation of the vulnerable. She has presented her work at National Academies of Science conferences and Congressional committees. Since Katrina, her work has been focused specifically on lessons to be learned from the event—especially in the realm of community recovery and hazard resiliency. This work emphasizes Participatory Action Research in both slow onset (coastal land loss and sea level rise) and abrupt major disaster events (hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill). She is the 2008 recipient of the American Sociological Association's Public Understanding of Sociology Award for her continuous collaboration with physical scientists and her presentations nationwide on Katrina/Rita impacts, and of awards from the ASA Environment and Technology Section and the Rural Sociological Society's Natural Resources Research Group.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco is a world renowned environmental scientist who has deep experience in the worlds of science, academia, and government. She is a champion of science and of the stronger engagement of scientists with society. She was the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2009-2013. Nominated by President Obama in December 2008 as part of his “Science Dream Team,” she is a marine ecologist and environmental scientist by training; and has expertise in oceans, climate change, and interactions between the environment and human well-being. To introduce her to his Senate colleagues for her confirmation hearing, Senator Ron Wyden called Lubchenco “the bionic woman of good science.”

Brian Salerno is the Senior Vice President for Maritime Policy at CLIA. In this capacity, he works in conjunction with member companies to develop industry positions on a wide variety of safety, health, environmental, and security matters affecting cruise ship operations around the world. He oversees a team of experts who interact with government agencies, standards setting organizations, and international bodies for the purpose of shaping the regulatory land-scape in a way that enables uninterrupted cruise operations. Mr. Salerno served 36 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, retiring in 2012 at the rank of Vice Admiral. During his career, he worked in a variety of Coast Guard operational missions, with a particular focus on maritime safety. He commanded field units in San Juan, Puerto Rico and in Boston, MA, serving concurrently as Captain of the Port, Officer in Charge Marine Inspection, Federal On-Scene Coordinator for environmental responses—and after the 9/11 attacks—as Federal Mari-time Security Coordinator. Overseas assignments included a tour as the Maritime Safety Advisor to the Panama Canal Authority. As a Flag Officer, he was responsible for establishing program policy for all prevention and response missions. He also led the U.S. delegation to the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee. His most senior position was that of Deputy Commandant for Operations, which he held from 2010 to 2012. Immediately upon retirement, Mr. Salerno began working as a marine consultant. He served as the U.S. Liaison for BIMCO—an international ship owner’s association headquartered in Copenhagen. He also served on the Panama Canal Navigation Safety Advisory Board. In 2013, he was appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to lead the recently established Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which was focused on offshore oil exploration and production. While in this position, he strengthened government oversight procedures based upon lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He stepped down in January 2017. Following his term at BSEE, Mr. Salerno resumed work as an independent marine consultant. He also serves as Vice President of the U.S. Friends of World Maritime University, and as a Board member for the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA). He joined CLIA in December 2017.

Dr. Francis Wiese is a Senior Principal within Stantec’s Environmental Services Group and serves as Stantec’s overall Technical Leader for Marine Science. Dr. Wiese brings 25 years of experience working in the coastal and marine environment throughout the world: designing, implementing, and managing large inter-disciplinary, multi-institutional science programs in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and the Arctic; and conducting projects in the North Sea, Caribbean, Galapagos, Gulf of Mexico, and the east and west coast of North America. Dr. Wiese has worked for and with academia, government, non-profits, and industry. He is a technical reviewer for over 20 international journals and serves on a variety of national and internal science panels and working groups. He has also provided expert testimony for oil pollution related issues in Canada and the United States. Dr. Wiese has extensively focused on environmental impacts as a result of anthropogenic stressors, marine shipping, marine spatial planning, climate change, environmental policy, adaptive management, resiliency, population and bio-energetic modeling, aerial surveys, satellite telemetry, marine mammals, seabirds, fisheries, study design, statistical analyses, and public speaking. Most of all, he enjoys thinking outside the box to solve complex real-world issues.

Charlie Williams was named Executive Director for the Center for Offshore Safety (COS) in March 2012. Previously he retired from Shell Oil as Chief Scientist - Well Engineering after a 40 year career. At Shell, Mr. Williams held other senior management positions including Vice President – Global R&D. He is a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Tennessee and Professional Mechanical Engineer. He received the 2012 Offshore Technology Conference Special Citation and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Regional Safety Award for his offshore safety work. Mr. Williams serves on the Department of Interior OESC Federal Advisory Committee, and he has presented extensively on Safety Management and drilling technology—including to the Presidential Commission, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and National Academy of Science. Mr. Williams chaired the post-Horizon Joint Industry Task Force - Subsea Well Control & Containment and the BSEE/Argonne Labs Workshop – Effects of Water Depth on Offshore Equipment & Operations. He is a recipient of the US Department of Interior - Corporate Citizenship Award and has been awarded the National Ocean Industries Association “Safety in the Seas Award". Mr. Williams has also served on the Petroleum Engineering curriculum advisory committee at University of Texas. He has been a lifetime member of the SPE.

Dr. Monica Wilson is a member of the Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Team. She is based in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the UF/IFAS Extension of the Florida Sea Grant College Program. Dr. Wilson started as a physical oceanographer, modelling circulation, flushing, and the impacts of tropical storms on coastal systems in the region. During her graduate tenure at the University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science, her research involved using numerical models as a tool to aid in the understanding of the circulation and flushing changes in the Tampa Bay Estuary during extreme events such as hurricanes and extratropical/winter storms. She investigated both short-term and long-term effects of large-scale weather events on the flow field and tidal residual circulation, as well as their cumulative impact of flushing on the bay. In her current role, she transfers and shares information between GoMRI oil spill scientists and coastal stakeholders at a state, regional, and national level. The team’s focus is on the two-way transfer of information between the people whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative scientists, administrators, and board of directors.


On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire occurred on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, resulting in the deaths of 11 oil rig workers and triggering a massive response and recovery effort for what would become the largest offshore oil spill in US history. Approximately 10 years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Offshore Situation Room will explore our shared understanding of: current capabilities, roles, and policies; lessons learned since the Deepwater Horizon disaster; and questions that remain unanswered, as well as potential ways to address them.

BP and Transocean incurred approximately $20 billion in civil and criminal penalties and tens of billions more in response costs. $500 million of the criminal penalty funds were endowed to the National Academy of Sciences to create the Gulf Research Program to enhance offshore energy system safety, environmental protection, and human health and community resilience. The Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program that funds studies, projects, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and capacity building, and monitoring and synthesis. Additional information is available here:

Serious games abstract key elements of real-world events or processes for the purpose of informing and educating participants in an engaging and entertaining manner. The 2.5-day event, Offshore Situation Room, will examine how to prevent, respond to, and recover from a challenging offshore oil disaster if one were to occur again. With invited players representing federal, state, and local government agencies; academia; nongovernmental organizations; industry; affected communities; and others, Offshore Situation Room will focus on critical questions to advance efforts to enhance offshore energy system safety, environmental protection, and health and resilience of Gulf coast communities in the next decade. The games are meant to prompt reflection, discourse, and planning around what we have learned and what we still need to learn about preventing, responding to, and reducing the impacts of offshore oil disasters.

Offshore Situation Room will take place March 24–26, 2020, at the University of Southern Mississippi in Gulfport, Mississippi, at its Long Beach campus.. The event will begin early afternoon of Tuesday, March 24 (tentatively 1 pm), and conclude the afternoon of Thursday, March 26 (tentatively 4 pm).

Over the course of the 2.5 days, participants will engage in various types of activities that include small group discussions, knowledge and information exchange, board and discussion-based games, and plenary sessions. The games involve some role-play, through which players confront and resolve challenges associated with offshore oil disasters. Participants will explore details related to prevention and preparedness; response; and impacts, recovery, and restoration. Offshore Situation Room sessions will not replay the specific circumstances of Deepwater Horizon, and scenarios for the discussions and games will be set either in the present or in the near future. Participants will contend with surprises and “what ifs” that may be instructive in determining whether lessons learned after Deepwater Horizon may be applied to other offshore oil disasters, and what actions or information may be needed to build resilience to offshore oil disasters yet to come. Moreover, after each game session, players will carry their game experiences forward into prospective group discussions to identify high-priority, unmet needs.

The Gulf Research Program has appointed an ad-hoc committee to plan and facilitate the event; their bios can be viewed above. The committee is working in partnership with CNA to design the games and structure the agenda. CNA is an internationally recognized center for excellence in gaming and game design. CNA has been conducting large‐scale, high‐quality games and scenario-based exercises for federal and state government clients for nearly 30 years.

The committee is working in partnership with CNA to design the game and structure the agenda. CNA has been intimately involved in US Navy wargaming efforts and has designed games for other government sponsors (such as the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and nonprofit organizations. CNA co-sponsored the Food Chain Reaction global food security game with Cargill, Mars, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Center for American Progress. Their gaming experts also actively speak, write, and publish about the theory of games. CNA’s Peter Perla is the author of the seminal book The Art of Wargaming: A Guide for Professionals and Hobbyists.

Thank you for your interest in attending this event. Due to space limitations, the event is restricted to approximately 90 invited participants. If you would like additional information, please use the contact form at the bottom of this page.

The Gulf Research Program will widely disseminate key findings from the event and present its findings in National Academies–produced proceedings (expected fall 2020). Please let us know if you would like to receive information about the proceedings please sign up for GRP e-updates at

While we may capture video of some event highlights, there will not be a recording of each individual speaker or participant. The Gulf Research Program will widely disseminate key findings from the event and present its findings in National Academies–produced proceedings (expected fall 2020).

Please visit the Gulf Research Program website for additional details on current and recent activities:

Please use the contact from at the bottom of this page. We will respond as quickly as possible.



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